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There Is Time To Pause and Think – Take It

“Giving yourself a little bit of time, even if it’s just a minute or two, to develop an opinion could help you catch yourself when you’re simply going along with the crowd.” 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do by Amy Morin

Even a “Mom’s Night” Gives You an Opportunity to Pause and Think

Have you ever been to one of these events? A group of Mom’s, either friends before kids or maybe they’re friends because of the kids; scouts, school, or sports, has brought these parents together. They’ve made connections while the kids do their thing, so they organize a “Mom’s Night” to have fun without kids in tow.

I never was one to have close female friends, even in school. Somehow the idea of hanging out with a group of women never appealed to me. I always felt like an outsider, a little too rough and “non-feminine” to hang out with the girls. I was far more interested in what the guys were doing, in more than a “can I grab myself a new boyfriend” way. I wanted to talk about fixing things, tell dirty jokes, and not worry so much about hurting feelings.

Amazingly enough, I have made female friends over the years though, mostly through homeschool groups my sons attended. And I have found myself at a few “Mom’s Night” events and had fun, despite my reservations about going.

How is this related to giving yourself time to think , Michelle? Get to it. We don’t have all day!

Well, one of the ways I practiced giving myself a minute to see if I was just following the crowd was at a “Mom’s Night.” Choosing a movie to see, a restaurant to go to, or what picture to paint at Paint Night, was a chance to take a second and think. Is this really what I want to do, or am I following what the women around me are choosing?

Many times, my pause to think allowed others to do the same and we ended up going in an entirely different direction.

At a dinner, when the waitress started asking, “What can I get you to drink?” and the table started with “iced tea,” “water,” or “cola,” I took a pause. I thought this was a night out?! I ordered a beer…and the rest of the table changed their orders, except one woman that really did just want a cola without her kids begging to have some too. We all laughed. We were doing what we thought everyone expected of us, not what we really wanted.

Our natural herd mentality is a strong instinct. Safety first! Right? Better to go with the flow and stick to what everyone else is doing! Except when the person that picked the direction of the flow in the first place is nothing like you or has none of the wants and needs that you do.

We don’t have to go against the grain in every circumstance. There is such a thing as common sense, behavior and choices that generally benefit humans. But we do need to watch ourselves and make sure that we are, in fact, making the choice to follow. If we don’t we’ll end up exactly where everyone else does and that might not be where YOU want to be.

Changing the World

“You don’t necessarily need to change the whole world. But you are capable of changing someone else’s world.”

13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do by Amy Morin

Damn skippy! I’d like to add that when you change someone else’s world, you ARE actually changing the whole world.

It’s something I realized when I became a Mom, and a feeling that grew in me over the years. Every interaction you have in this world, no matter how small creates a ripple effect. From a smile in the parking lot as you walk into the grocery store, all the way to doing a kindness for the people you live with, we have the ability to change something for the better every moment of every day.

Watering my plants, putting in a load of laundry, making up the bed, I mutter to myself, “What’s the point of being on this damn planet, if THIS is all I ever do?” I’m sure I’m not the only one. In this day and age when you can see what people are doing all over the world, you start to think that maybe you’re slacking as a human being.

My brother called me one day to tell me all about a Supreme Court judge’s accomplishments. “We look like idiots compared to these people! What have we done to make the world a better place?” It’s daunting looking at some people’s lists of glorious achievements. But…

We can’t all be out there as frontrunners. I mean…look how crowded the internet is with people vying for attention! Think about a stage with everyone out front trying to get the spotlight and deliver their lines. It would be a mess. There have to be some background characters, set builders, writers, soundboard operators, and don’t forget the audience!

We’re all part of the show called life and we all have a job to do, and all those jobs are important. Even the jobs no one ever sees. Even the jobs you think you completely messed up beyond all recognition (cleaned up version).

The picture of the flower in my yard that I send to my Mom, the dinner I make for my husband, the joke I send to my kids, the lunch I have with my Dad, the book I read, every tiny thing is part of the show. Do it with intention, love, and gratitude, and know that when someone pulls back the camera on this scene, the whole spectacle is glorious because you’re a part of it.

Why Do I Get Up In The Morning? – Episode Eight

There are days when I wish I had more friends to invite to a party. Wouldn’t it be nice, I think to myself as I sip a glass of whiskey, if this porch and house were filled with people? Maybe.

Then I look around me. There aren’t many of us here every week, but the feelings fill the room. A couple of us are here every weekend, some come occasionally, some stay for an hour, and some stay well into the night.

We are fortunate to live in a place where an “outdoor livingroom” can be a thing, and we’ve used it to our advantage. Just about every week we cook, we drink, laugh, and talk out there. We share stories, listen to music, shoot pool and keep a tally of winners and losers. “You marked that one down, right?!” is often heard yelled across the patio as the winner goes to pull another home brew from the keg and the loser reaches for the rack to set up the next game.

There is only one rule on Friday nights, “No bullshit.” This is the place we leave the outside world’s shit behind. We may talk politics, but we do not fight about it. You may bring your kids, but we don’t share opinions about parenting choices…unless we are asked for them. Fighting with your spouse or girlfriend? Leave it outside. There have been a few flare-ups. Even good friends disagree, but it passes quickly because we are all the type that forgive and forget offenses.

This is the time and place to celebrate simply being alive. Come if you want, or don’t. Bring a friend, or not. Bring food, or not. We’re all here to relax and enjoy each other’s company for a few hours.

The night starts with food, proceeds through games and beer, and then people start trickling out the door. It usually ends with the last of us laying on the couch snoring. It’s a wild bunch.

Would it be more fun to have a larger group of people? Possibly, for a time. But this small group of neighbors is irreplaceable. I can’t imagine the week without them.

Let Go of Being “Right”

“The need to be “right” is the result of trying to protect the image we want to project to the outside. We have to impose our way of thinking, not just onto other humans, but even ourselves.”

The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz

Strange that we create a world for ourselves that seems so real that we’ll do anything to protect it.

“A good life looks like this.”

“A family works this way.”

“Relationships progress through these steps.”

The list goes on and on and everyone’s list is slightly different.

What if we didn’t set expectations for things? What if we simply allowed life to progress without constraints, without “should be” and “must”? It’s hard. Even when I know I’m protecting an image, when I’ve worked out a plan to deviate from the old path I had created for myself, sometimes I lose focus and revert to habits I have built over a lifetime, habits built over previous generations habits. It’s frustrating.

But it’s worth the effort. Every time I catch myself and keep going in my chosen direction, knowing that it is, in fact, chosen, I get stronger and more capable of passing that strength to others. I’m creating a light in the world for others to see by, instead of paving a road for them to follow.

Why Do I Get Up In The Morning – Episode 6

What the heck?! Where have I been? Was there NOTHING to be joyful about? Nothing to share? No reason at all to get up in the morning?!

(That’s me, creating drama!) No, nothing like that at all. I’m just inconsistent with my writing habits. In fact, inconsistency is my mantra, my whole being wrapped up in one fine word! So here I am starting up again, picking up where I left off and waving a big hello to you. I’ll wrap you up in a big hug and sit down next to you, maybe under a tree on a park bench, or across from you in a restaurant over tacos.

Sheesh…I just scanned back and realized that I haven’t talked to you since late August. Two whole months! Instead of boring you with a long list of what I’ve been up too, because honestly, it’s a lot and pretty wild and crazy and…oh who am I kidding?! I’m talking to friends here! You know me. The wildest I get is maybe one too many glasses of tequila and a very loud game of pool on the back porch, but that’s what life is for!

I’ll just pick one thing that I’m extremely proud of at this very moment and tell you about it. My oldest son is off on another adventure today. He’s packing up his car and heading out into the world again. This time, he has a new job in a new state and a new car. And he’s very excited (and I know probably pretty nervous too).

The “pandemic” brought him back to us back in April. He had two jobs, one online and one at an airport, but when the airport laid him off and he wasn’t sure what was going to happen next, he decided that it was probably best just to head home for a bit and regroup. I’ll admit…I kinda pushed in that direction. I was worried and wanted as much of my family together as possible. I’m not always as strong and cool as I make myself out to be. Control is my go-to when I’m not sure of the outcomes, and I grab for anything I can. So here we are, six months later, and after a long and strenuous job search, he’s found work and is on his way.

Me? I’m not so much worried about him leaving as I was in the past. I know he’s a more than capable adult. I just know I will miss him terribly. I realized earlier this week that I was pretending like the day wasn’t coming, just going through the week like usual. I hate dwelling on what’s coming. I hate mooning over “This the last workday. This is the last grocery trip. This is the last beer we share.” Just typing that makes me choke up…stupid to sit and ruin those “lasts” so I pretend they aren’t. It’s ridiculous anyway. He’s not dying or moving to another planet. All kids grow up and move out. Sentimentality is not my strong suit. My husband on the other hand…poor guy.

While I wish he loved the desert as much as we do or could find work closer so that he could be here on weekends to visit, I’m happy that he loves adventure and follows his own heart. I’m happy that he’s not afraid to try new things and create his own world. I’m proud that we’ve created a strong enough foundation for him that he just jumps without worrying about what he’s leaving behind. I wish I were more like him. I think he’s going to love it there once he gets settled and I have a feeling he’ll find some new friends there.

One more thing before I go! His brother is not far behind him. He’s on his way to University in January and when I looked on the map I found that they’ll be only six hours apart. They’ll be able to spend some weekends together camping and hiking, maybe even racing sometime. I know they’re crazy different people and that they each have their own worlds to create, but something about knowing they at least have each other close enough to visit if they want to makes this Mom heart happy.

See you next week!

Really. I promise.

Social Media Animals

Let’s face it, I don’t get out much. I’m sure you can relate. Social media is the majority of my total social interaction these days, so I do spend an equivalent amount of time trying to figure out how to make it work. BC (before covid) you could have told me to get a life, but now I’m not allowed, right? So here I am stuck between my books, my immediate family, and my smartphone.

“Man And His Symbols” edited by Carl G. Jung was recommended to me by another book…lost that thread of the tapestry but that’s what’s nice about them, when you step back you can still see the big picture even if a few threads are missing. This morning, in a chapter about “The Process of Individuation” by M.-L. von Franz, I found this…

“We know from studying the social behavior of the higher animals that small groups (from approximately 10 to 50 individuals) create the best possible living conditions for the single animal as well as for the group, and man seems to be no exception in this respect. His physical well-being, his spiritual psychic health, and, beyond the animal realm, his cultural efficiency seem to flourish best in such a social formation. As far as we at present understand the process of individuation, the Self apparently tends to produce such small groups by creating at the same time sharply defined ties of feelings of relatedness to all people. Only if these connections are created by the Self can one feel any assurance that envy, jealousy, fighting, and all manner of negative projections will not break up the group. Thus an unconditional devotion to one’s own process of individuation also brings about the best possible social adaptation.”

I read this and took a deep breath. This is it. This is the piece of the puzzle I was missing when trying to understand why I get so frustrated with people on the internet, supposedly “connected” by social media. We think we are so “evolved” that we don’t need to understand our instincts, follow our intuition, or listen to our unconscious souls to move well in this world, but I’m really starting to think that it’s just not true. Technology does make many things easier, but I feel like we are losing ourselves in the learning curve of the new.

These social media connections aren’t created by the Self (that unconscious “real you”), they’re connected by the Ego (our drive to be noticed and accepted by the group). They are draining our social energy, like being at a party non-stop for years. We jump online every chance we get to interact, defend, and accuse until we flop on our couches exhausted, only to pick up the remote and watch the “news” or the latest sitcom’s for hours. At the end of the day, we check one more time to see if anyone in the world needs our attention before we collapse into bed, only to start the whole process over again the next day.

Social media is short-circuiting our drive to set ourselves apart and develop ourselves into individuals. This process is complicated, takes time and energy. It takes quiet reflection. But when we do it, we turn a light on that only others that have done the work, or are in the process of doing, can see. That’s when we create our small group of real connection, the one that builds a community and makes us bigger than our own individual whole.

When we lead with our Ego, we have tons of superficial connections with people that don’t share our light. That’s when the battle for control begins, jealousy and envy creep in and take over our life’s work. That’s when we decline into chaos, ripe for a bigger Ego to come in and claim they can clean things up for us, dispel the bad guys and make everyone fall into line and do what’s right. Politicians and super stars are great at this.

I struggle with my use of social media, you know that. There days recently that I think, “Well, Mother Nature has sent us to our rooms to think about what we’ve done, but I sure wish she would have taken away our smartphones.” I know forced learning doesn’t help in the long run, but these days…I just don’t know. You wouldn’t be reading this if we didn’t have the internet. I wouldn’t have found the book recommendations that have made my life better. I would have been able to post quotes that have encouraged friends over the years without social media. I don’t really want it to go away.

Then I think, maybe soul searching just isn’t for everyone. If you’re interested in taking the journey, this book is a great start to creating your own road map. Which leads me to the quote I shared on Instagram this morning.

Find your own path by the light of others ahead of you, as well as your own.

Why Do I Get Up in The Morning – Episode 2

Follow me on Instagram @desertmichelle

I’m writing my new “Why I Get Up” weekly post a day late. Why? Because I was busy doing the thing that makes me want to get up in the morning and now, I get to tell you about it!

My husband and I went on a scouting mission for new, more local camp sites a couple weeks ago. It’s hard to pull a trailer and look for good places to camp and we don’t have any vacation time to waste right now. We plan to drive to a few locations half a day’s drive (translation: less than 6 hours) away and then spend the weekend there exploring campgrounds and hiking areas.

The result of our first mission was a lot of great future tent camping places, which we haven’t done in years, and we were able to get in a couple beautiful hikes as well. I texted back locations to our sons at home so they could look them up and maybe do some camping/backpacking on their own. We never did spend much time in the Sierra’s, amazingly enough. We always went on weeks long RV trips into other states instead of exploring the wonderland in our own backyard. Maybe we were unconsciously saving it for a time when we couldn’t make the long hauls, who knows!

Back to why I get up in the morning: my awesome sons. Over dinner last weekend, my youngest (18) expressed an interest in doing some camping, but he didn’t really want to go alone. He was thinking maybe he could find a friend that would want to go on his days off from work. I asked if he would mind taking me camping, just the two of us and he lit up. We began to make our plans immediately. I use the word “plans” very lightly. We’re kind of “fly by the seat of our pants” kind of people, so “plans” mean general direction and days.

Early Monday morning, we threw a tent, sleeping bags, water, firewood, the coffee pot, and some food in the truck and headed to the mountains. I had an idea of where I wanted to go but was afraid the best-looking first-come, first-served places would be full, since all the places that took reservations were booked until the end of summer.

I was delightfully surprised! My first choice of campground was available, and my son picked THE best spot right by the creek. We got out of the truck, paid the fees ($25 for primitive camping…wow), filled our water bottles and headed up the first trail we found.

We hiked for five hours, came back to camp, ate, and went for another hour-long walk down the road. The night was wonderfully cold. We got up just as the sky started to lighten, made a fire, boiled some coffee, ate, packed our backpacks for a long day and headed up the other side of the canyon for five more hours of hiking.

We could only stay one night since he had to work the next day, but I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful twenty-four hours. We had amazing conversations, laughed hard, and met some nice people and their dogs. My son is very athletic and I … well, I’m getting old and I’ve never been much hard worker, but he never lost patience with me. These hikes were hard. We started at 9000 feet and got up to 11,000 in about three miles. It was like a staircase up to the lakes, but I got there. He could have run up them but always stopped and rested with me.

We took pictures of each other, made up stories about weird looking plants and trees, and made fun of other campers and hikers. “Burning daylight!” was heard many times. We were tired, dirty, and mosquito bitten. We were hungry. We didn’t sleep well because the ground was so hard. Climbing the second day, I honestly didn’t think I’d make it, but he just kept me going with his gentle positive attitude. He encouraged and empowered me with every climb and every rest in the shade. I felt like a warrior!

Last year, I thought my days of having adventures with my sons was coming to a close. My older son had moved to the east coast and was determined to do things on his own. And my younger son was making plans to spend time in Europe like his brother and go to University in the city when he came back. I was on my own and it seemed so sudden to me. I found myself wondering, “Weren’t they just asking me to take them to Disneyland? Didn’t I have to be there to sign waivers for motocross last week? What just happened?”

And here we are. Circumstances change all the time. I’m not happy their plans had to change and everyone is back in the same house. That kind of sucks for all of us. But I am happy that I was reminded that any moment can be the last time, any adventure could be the last, or not. You just don’t know.

We took a “selfie” at the top of the pass, 11,000 feet above sea level, the highest I have ever been with my feet on the ground. I said, “You never know if this is the last time we camp and hike together like this. We need a good picture of our feat of strength!”

“Every trip we take is the best one, Mom. It doesn’t matter if we ever do it again.”

We taught them that. Always live today, right now, like it’s your last day. Don’t waste a moment.

Bonus level: We came up with a great story starter as we walked, and I made a few notes when we got back to camp. Now I have another short story to work on and this one is Twilight Zone style!

Overloaded Outlet

These past few months really threw me for a loop. Not because of what’s going on but my reaction to it. I thought I was better than this. Have I learned anything?

I read emails while I eat breakfast. I know…don’t multitask, Michelle. Be aware of your breakfast. But people, while oatmeal is delicious and nutritious, it’s just not much to be aware of. Give me a break here. Emails are much nicer to think about.

Yesterday’s “Moment of Happiness” from Gretchen Rubin was especially relevant to me, so much so, that I wrote it down in my journal.

“Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson, An Inland Voyage

The visual of “a clock during a thunderstorm” really struck me…pun not intended but…good one! What I wouldn’t give to be like that clock!

A couple things came to mind when I read it. The first was how do I get that “quiet mind?” I have routines, meditation times, I read, I keep a journal, I “make space for me,” yet my squirrel brain continues to race around. I can’t seem to tame this beast.

And then, how do I protect my “private pace?” Shit, how do I figure out what my own private pace IS?! From childhood to young adulthood, to parenthood, I’ve always felt like I was running someone else’s race. My parent’s, my school’s, my job’s, and then my children’s. I’m always keeping up with them, filling their needs, inadvertently neglecting my own. Only recently have I begun to have time to even think about what my own personal pace will be now.

So I sat, drinking my coffee and thinking about it and it dawned on me. The scene from “A Christmas Story” came to mind, the one where they’re trying plug the Christmas lights into the socket and it’s overflowing with plugs.

I am that outlet! I’m overloaded with plugs draining my power at a rate I just can’t keep up with. I need to prioritize. There are some things I just can’t let go of, nor do I want to. My husband, my children, my home, and some very special friends are what make life worth living. At times they are also drains on my energy, but mostly they add to my life in amazing ways.

I need fewer pulls on my attention. I need quiet time. While I don’t generally spend a lot of time outside my home, I do spend a lot of time socializing online. And that is what I need to let go of.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Medium, Tumblr, even LinkedIn, all vie for my attention. Like an outlet with a poor fuse, if it even has one at all, I’m more likely to spark and start a fire that consumes it all than to blow a fuse.

So, I’m taking some advice that I got over a year ago and letting them go. All of them, except for my personal Facebook page. I’m keeping that because I use it as an online scrapbook and to keep in touch with my friends and family. I’ve set it up so that it pulls as little attention away from my physical reality as possible.

What does that mean for my blog? It means that my posts won’t be automatically shared across platforms. I will be sharing each post to my personal Facebook page, so if you are there, you are welcome to follow me. I won’t accept friend requests from readers but follows of my public posts are very much welcome.

My monthly newsletter will also continue to go out to all my email subscribers. I love writing that newsletter! It’s mostly about the books I’ve been reading all month, but I also share my favorite posts from the month. You’d like it. Go sign up. Please!

I need more time without the constant bombardment of other people’s input so that I can create things that are uniquely me. That doesn’t necessarily mean blog posts! I’m still trying to discover what my thing is.

Freedom

A friend sent me a book he thought I’d like. That alone makes my heart happy. Since “It” was starting to give me nightmares that I just don’t need right now, I decided to put it aside awhile and read this instead.

This afternoon, I put my work aside and sat down with a cup of coffee to read for an hour. There are so many things I could spend my time on, but I just can’t seem to get my butt in gear, as my Mom used to tell me when I was a kid.

This piece touched my soul. It gets to the bottom of how I feel. I shouldn’t feel this way about my fellow humans, but sometimes I can’t help it.

The difference between her and the rabbits is that she wanted to be free.

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From “In The Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez

And The Stars To Guide Me

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Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

“However much we may admire the orator’s occasional bursts of eloquence, the noblest written words are commonly far behind or above the fleeting spoken language as the firmament with its stars is behind the clouds. There are the stars, and they who can may read them. The astronomers forever comment on and observe them. They are not exhalations like our daily colloquies and vaporous breath. What is called eloquence in the forum is commonly found to be rhetoric in the study. The orator yields to the inspiration of the transient occasion, and speaks to the mob before him, to those who can hear him; but the writer, whose more equable life is his occasion, and who would be distracted by the event and the crowd which inspire the orator, speaks to the intellect and heart of mankind, to all in any age who can understand him.”
From Walden by Henry David Thoreau

This. Wow. This morning, sitting there with my book, distracted like a squirrel by anything that moves or makes a sound, I read this.

I wasn’t enjoying Walden very much until this chapter, Reading. And then I almost cried. He spoke to my soul with this chapter, from 100 years in the past. And that’s exactly what he was trying to say.

How can we relate old written words to our current tech-filled, fast paced life? Read this book and you’ll know. He writes of the telegraph, the train, newspapers, and city life as we would of social media, world travel, mainstream media news, and city life. Ha! And his point still stands.

Do we really have that much to do? Are we overwhelming ourselves and forgetting what it’s like to be human? Are we so filled with “business” that we lose site of the real point of our lives?

This morning, I got up from my reading to make breakfast as I usually do and thought, I should go back to eating better. I haven’t been feeling as healthy as I should the past few weeks and I know it’s mainly because I’ve been skipping a good breakfast and starting my days with coffee and toast or cereal. I walked into the kitchen, opened the fridge, and looked at the vegetables, eggs, cheese, that I had bought the day before.

“I don’t have time to cut up veggies and then make eggs.”

I don’t have time? Why? Because I have so many pressing responsibilities? Because I have to be at work? Because I have babies to feed and love? No. I don’t have time because I want to get back to the distraction of scrolling through social media feeds. I’ve lost track of my priorities.

I’m not condemning social media, fun, or friendships. I’m not saying sell all your possessions, quit your job and live off the land. I’m saying make time for what you really want. And to do that we have to start with knowing exactly what it is we want.

For me, that means deliberately setting everything else aside for a while and going back to basics, maybe even spending some serious time in solitude, to reflect and refocus. When I’m quiet and undisturbed from the outside, my mind begins to settle down and the real thinking begins.

I need to go back to my stars and stop looking at the clouds for direction.

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